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Payback for Playback: Mp3.com gives Indian musicians a platform

   Nidhi Taparia

Vishal Joshi is an independent-music producer. He sends his demo remixes to the Ministry of Sound, Dreamworks and Jive. He says he can do this thanks to Mp3.com.

Demonic Resurrection is an unknown band in India. Abroad, however, it has garnered airplay on radio stations, has been reviewed by several sites and magazines, covered by a Pakistani musician called Jangli Jagga and invited to one of the biggest metal festivals, New Jersey's Metal Meltdown, next year.

Midival Punditz, recently heard on the Monsoon Wedding OST, use their site and mp3.com to get its music across to DJs around the world. "The Internet is a great place to promote our not-so-commercial kind of music," they say. "Besides, it is extremely difficult to find a recording company all the time, and this was always an outlet for our unreleased stuff."

Bombay Blacks have sold 45 CDs in a few months, Delhi Devils have sold 22, while techno artist ID CJ aka 7 Heaven has been asked for higher quality audio so DJs can spin his stuff at their clubs.

If you thought heavy metal or electronica would be more popular online, you thought wrong. Pentagram has only 2000 plays, while heavy metal band Metakix notched up 421 plays despite being online for a year. Nerves of Steel scored just 29.

Compare these with sitar player Chandrakant Sardeshmukh, who has 50,000 plays to his name. Pandit Jasraj has over 13,000 plays; santoor player Shiv Kumar Sharma has over 15,000 and even sarod performances by the unknown Vijit Singh from Benaras has over 3,000.

Popular classical singer Veena Sahastrabuddhe is one of the highest played artists at mp3.com, with a couple of lakh plays. The Pune-based singer has received a few thousand dollars in download fees and online sales. She, along with her husband Hari, has also helped classical exponents like Kashinath Bodse, and flautist Ronu Majumdar put up their own music.

Of the 100 odd musicians found online, more than 25 are instrumentalists or singers of Indian classical music - Hindustani and Carnatic. The number doesn't surprise Veena: "I knew we have a good genre. Once people are exposed to it, some will inevitably want more."
While online sales are good, the main draw for most musicians is Mp3.com's Payback for Playback program. The site has set aside $1 million a month to compensate the most popular bands. And yes, the competition is stiff. Madras-based Little Babooshka's Grind has earned $ 200 in the past two years, and so has Bangalore-based Shamir Goyal. Sanjay Subrahmanyam was paid $ 500, primarily because his brand of Carnatic music came along with the stamp of 'Indian mystica'.

The advent of free file sharing facilities like Napster and Gnutella has changed things drastically. Most record companies are up in arms about the issue, but this doesn't affect all musicians. Indian classical singer Veena Sahastrabuddhe says, "In Hindustani classical music, a single piece of music could last an hour, making downloading impractical at the moment. What I like about it is that it has made record labels take the Internet seriously."

For aspiring musicians, the process of uploading music is simple enough, thanks to a user-friendly interface. "The cover art is important and some amount of Web designing experience helps," says Vishal. "You also have the option of letting people download your music free or streaming it first and selling it after burning it on to a CD."

There are other benefits too. "It helps you gauge where you stand when compared with the rest of the world," says Avneet Janakiraman, lead guitarist of the band, LBG. What kind of music works online? Anything. The only important ingredients are promotion and good work.

Bands are becoming cutthroat entrepreneurs too, trying to drive traffic to their own music and make it to the Top 40 charts. Rumours abound about how a top band played its own music over a LAN to push itself. Midival Punditz sends out regular mails and newsletters along with free tracks to get more people tuned in to their music. For Vishal Joshi, the hits are rising despite his being off the charts. "I thought only constant promotion would attract more listeners, but it isn't really like that," he says.

Despite this huge platform, things aren't always easy for Indian musicians. Avneet says, "I have received over 400 mails from around the world, and a measly two or three from within the country. Indian audiences have not matured yet and still think Indian musicians are no good. Most remain unaware of the existence of Indian charts at mp3.com."

Vishal agrees. "It's ironic how I achieved success out there, while record companies in India won't consider new talent."

Till they do though, he's going to keep mixing.

More Like This:
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 -- I want my MP3
 -- All for a song
 -- Ten sites to appreciate music better

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